Health workers say they are feeling the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic which has caused severe mental illness in the health sector.

According to a Health Awareness Report study by the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR), lack of adequate psychosocial support services associated with discrimination from work colleagues and society, especially for doctors who were working on the front lines of COVID-19, doctors exposed. many mental health issues at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mental health impact of COVID-19 has always been expected to be enormous in society due to the nature of the disease and the various coping mechanisms that come with it. However, these mental health issues are expected to affect health workers more than the general population.

“Healthcare workers are already predisposed to mental health problems, and there is evidence in the literature of increased mental and psychological stress among healthcare workers during infectious disease outbreaks.

“For example, frontline and non-frontline health workers responding to the Ebola virus outbreak in Africa and those responding to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Hong Kong and Beijing presented various symptoms of psychological disorders,” the report read. .

ZADHR Secretary General Dr. Norman Matara said the medical sector was not spared from the effects of the pandemic.

“The loss of a patient is something that really affects your mental health and it has been found that in a pandemic that pressure or mental health stress actually increases. We have seen outbreaks like the Ebola in Liberia and also the emergence of SARS in 2001 and 2008 respectively where it was found that doctors who responded to the SARS outbreak in South Korea experienced an increase in mental health issues,” said the Dr. Matara.

He added that COVID-19 had its own unique characteristics which negatively impacted the mental health of doctors, for example the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), an increase in COVID-19 cases among workers. health care workers and deaths, and sensationalist media reports have actually increased mental health stress.

“The workload also during COVID-19 played a role. Even we as healthcare workers have actually designed our unit to call them red zones or green zones and so on. Red is always associated with danger, so we did ourselves a disservice by labeling units in red zones. There are also the lifestyle changes that have come with COVID-19, for example constant wearing of masks, constant disinfection, lockdowns, social distancing and all those things that have really affected people’s mental health. .

He further disclosed that in just three months into the pandemic, more than 50 nurses from Mashonaland Central had resigned in Zimbabwe citing mental health issues.

He added that the fact that Zimbabwe has very few mental health workers within the public health system has also made the situation worse for health workers.

“You see there are only 18 psychiatrists covering the whole of Zimbabwe and you see out of those 18 psychiatrists they are mostly concentrated in the cities of Harare and Bulawayo and we have around 917 mental health nurses across the country, which translates to approximately 6,500 metal nurses per 100,000 people.

“We only have six clinical psychologists in government and 10 professional therapists and 13 clinical social workers in the country. This data comes from the World Health Organization (WHO) by 2020. There are only 11 mental health institutions in the whole country in the public health sector and most of these institutions are not 100% functional and there is consistent and insufficient mental health funding, we are still seeing mental health patients not receiving medication,” Dr. Matara said.

Some of the common mental health issues in Zimbabwe are schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major speech disorder, epilepsy, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, suicide, and parasuicide. He added that physicians in some cases had to adopt negative coping mechanisms in order to survive the mental health pressures caused by COVUD-19.

Policymakers, health institutions and health-related organizations need to put in place a range of supportive interventions to address the existing gaps in access to mental health and psychosocial support for health workers in Zimbabwe .

At the start of the pandemic, in 2020, there was a depletion of personal protective equipment (PPE) and uncertainty over the quality and supply of PPE caused healthcare workers to be constantly afraid of contracting the virus. virus and thus have an impact on their mental health.

Health workers have had to take industrial action due to a shortage of PPE, and a High Court order has been issued requiring the government to provide a constant supply of PPE. Secondly, there has been an increase in COVID-19 cases among health workers, deaths of health workers and media reports of these deaths have instilled fear in other health workers and amplified the negative effects of COVID-19 on their mental health.